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The Play Years

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Essay title: The Play Years

The Play Years

The play years, between the ages of two to six years is one of the most magic phases of a child's (and their parent's) lives. Children are very entertaining at this age and they are a great deal of fun to observe and interact with. These children have also reached one of the most active times in terms of a person's development. There are many cognitive milestones reached during this age, which theorist Jean Piaget named Preoperational Thought (Berger, 2005).

At around 2, children begin to lose the clumsiness of toddlerhood and develop more advanced motor skills as they start to gain better control over their actions. The acquisition of language is a major development and one of the things that makes us stand us out from other species (Peterson, 2004). The ability to begin to communicate with others signifies that the child is leaving their babyhood behind and captivated parents can begin to catch a glimpse of the person their child is becoming (Goode, C. 2007).

On the surface, we witness fun, games and lots of Vegemite. Life seems to be a happy adventure and children during this period spend most of their waking hours playing (Goode, C. 2007). But dig a little deeper, and researchers have found that these ‘play years' may hold the key to our future adult behaviours and personality. As the development theorists Piaget, Gessel, Vygotsky and Eriksson all discovered, being an observer and watching these children develop at lightning speed is fascinating. This paper will investigate factors influencing childhood development, during the ages of 2 to 6 years.

There are two trains of thought on development. These are biological (nature) and environmental (nurture). Biological theorists, like Arnold Gesell, believe that our development is genetic and sequential, with documented patterns and similarities in all children's mental development. He believed that this progress occurred on a pre-existing time-line. His work supports the belief of predetermined development, and he claimed that individuals go through an identifiable sequence of stages (Crisp & Taylor, 2005). This makes him an advocate of ‘nature' in the nature vs. nurture debate over childhood development.

Linguist Noam Chomsky is another advocate of the biological development theory and his work supports the concept of ‘biolinguistics' (Chomsky, 2007). His research on language states that its development is learned by children everywhere at about the same time and in the same order. Developmental researcher's believe that this is not entirely accurate.

Physically, these theories may be plausible, as most children develop on a relatively predictable timeline, but cognitively speaking, research by developmental theorists like Vygotsky has shown that environmental factors also have an effect on childhood development. Interaction with family and peer groups, as well as cultural influences and education all have an impact on the cognitive development process and many case studies have established evidence supporting this. However, research does show that there may also be some biological ‘triggers'. For example, children of this age, on average tend to double their vocabulary every year from the ages of 2 to 5 (Westerlund & Lagerberg, 2007). In contrast, there is also evidence available which shows that from an environmental perspective, children who are read to from an early age and have had greater parental involvement, plus access to early education, tend to have a larger vocabulary (Walsh, 2008).

We must also take into account that the growing number of children from single parent families. These children may have limited educational opportunities and possibly less parental involvement, all of which have an impact on development. Unfortunately, social disadvantage can play a big role in a child's psychological and physical development. A paediatric study compared data from over 9,500 children in 1979 to over 21,000 in 1996. It points to rises in child poverty and single-parent households as the major causes of behavioural problems in kids aged 4 to 15 (McCarthy, 2000). The same study also found that children suffering from ADHD are five times more likely to come from a disadvantaged background. These children are also more prone to smoke, take drugs and do badly at school (Conwell, O'Callaghan, Anderson, Bor & Williams, 2003).

These statistics validate the view that socioeconomic factors impact development, because the quality and availability of education and health facilities tends to reflect the economic situation of the neighbourhoods or societies in which they reside (Walsemann, Geronimus & Gee, 2008). This presents grounds for the ‘nurture'

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